By Jill Craig
HARGESIA, SOMALILAND— Wasiim Said Mohamed arrived in Somaliland in February with his wife and two sons. They fled Yemen after Houthi militants attacked their home in Aden.
“This is the only country where the cost of living is cheap and there is good security and I can live with the people,” Mohamed said.
In the past year, nearly half of the 176,000 people who have fled Yemen’s conflict have gone to the Horn of Africa, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Many are Africans returning to their countries of origin, but about 26,000 are Yemenis with nowhere else to turn.
Mohamed works at a bakery owned by his uncle’s Syrian friend, Abdulrahman Darwish. Darwish had been living in Yemen since the 1980s, but brought his family to Hargeisa last year.
“The situation here is very good,” Darwish said, “but I’m lacking some materials and support. I want to leave and go to another country, but it’s very difficult. I cannot take that risk at sea with my wife and two daughters. If I can get some legal way to Europe or elsewhere, I’ll be willing to do that.”
Safe, but stuck
Options for Yemeni refugees are limited. Most don’t have the money to pay smugglers or attempt the long, dangerous route to Europe, which involves crossing the Gulf of Aden, then going by land through Egypt to the Mediterranean. And even then, many can’t get visas in Europe or Turkey.
FILE – A Yemeni refugee browses the book selections at the Peaceful Coexistence Center, in Hargeisa, Somaliland, April 3, 2016.
Somaliland may be safe and welcoming, but it is poor. Unemployment is high. The UNCHR says that of the 10,000 people who have arrived here from Yemen, about 1,900 are Yemeni nationals.
There is no refugee camp in Somaliland. The government says it is open to the idea, but the U.N. says the numbers don’t justify it.
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 after a three-year war, so many of the people here know the refugee experience firsthand. Still, resources are limited, says Somaliland’s Resettlement Minister Ali Saed Raygal.
“The refugees are in the same situation as Somalilanders because the Somalilanders also don’t have enough jobs,” Raygal said. “So anyone who had skills, working in Yemen, he can do the same here. But we are trying to help them.”
Upon arrival, refugees are given food, medical care and cash — about $100 per person — by the U.N. But it’s not enough for some, like Jihan Ali Abdullah.
“I want to go to a civilized country, I want to live,” Abdullah said. “I want to be stable financially. I want to go back to school, do something, make a life. Here is not life.”